A small tax exemption case that recently played out in an Alaska superior court could have big implications in the debate over same-sex marriage.
Last month, the court ruled the state’s tax-assessment rules were unconstitutional because they did not allow same-sex couples access to a property tax exemption for senior citizens and disabled veterans.
Julie Schmidt and her partner Gayle Schuh, one of the couples in the case, owned a home together with an assessed value of $254,200. Forbes contributor Peter J. Reilly writes, “If they were married they would have been entitled to a $150,000 property tax exemption because Ms. Schmidt is over 65. Since they were not married, the exclusion is limited to $127,100 (half the assessed value).”
So, in August, along with two other same-sex couples, they filed a lawsuit against Alaska and Anchorage over the tax-exemption laws.
Alaska has a marriage amendment in its Constitution that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, but it also has strong equal protection guarantees. The case of Julie Schmidt et.al, v The State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage forced these two protections into a legal battle.
The ACLU of Alaska and the national American Civil Liberties Union filed the case on behalf of Schmidt, her partner, and two other same-sex Alaska couples who wanted access to a $150,000 property tax exemption.
Judge Frank A. Pfiffner, of the superior court in Anchorage, ruled that the tax exemption’s marital classification – though consistent with the marriage amendment – violates the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection clause.
According to Peter Spring, senior fellow for policy studies at Family Research Council, the case “raises serious questions” about the effectiveness of defense of marriage acts and even constitutional amendments. Because, even in states that have passed marriage amendments, there are courts that are ruling that benefits can be granted without it.
Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute told The Christian Post, the problem is that the United States has a lot of activist judges. But he believes the ruling will likely we reversed on appeal with the state’s supreme court.
“At the end, decisions by judicial activists are often corrected on appeal,” Dacus said.